General Conference: Feeling Tossed on the Old Ship Zion

life-preserver

For the most part I’m a fan of General Conference. I like to spend Saturdays working on a project, headphones on and hearing counsel and stories about the gospel. Sundays I turn it on in the kitchen and try to listen as I simultaneously instruct the kids on the proper way to make frijoles or corn chowder or whatever yumminess we’ll eat during the break between session. Sunday afternoon is spent in a food coma in the basement, drifting in and out of sleep as I recline on the futon. Some talks I like. Some bug me. But I usually walk away a little more committed and renewed. But this past weekend, I felt pulled in two different directions and I’m a little queasy as a result.

My favorite speaker is always Jeffrey Holland. I love his intelligence. I love his relationship with his wife Pat (she is his equal, not his “sweet companion”) and that comes out in how he talks about and to women. I love that he always has a thesis and sticks with it (English major here). His Saturday afternoon talk focused on how the Savior’s first “messianic call” was to care for the poor. “The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people.” He really hit home our duty to “seek opportunities to care for the poor.” Aside from fast offerings, he promised that God “will guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”

And other talks made reference to serving in our communities and as communities. I delighted in hearing Elder Wong talk (in Cantonese!!) about the absolute need to “Rescue in Unity.” “We can all help one another,” he said. “We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need. … When we assist (Jesus Christ) in his mission of saving souls, we too will be rescued in the process.” I felt the truth of their admonitions. As I say to my teenage son who no longer identifies as Mormon, “I don’t care as much if you believe in Christ as I do that you act like Christ.”

But there was another theme: the need to put family gospel study first. This was referenced many times, most particularly by Elder Scott who focused on the necessity of making one’s family the center of all our efforts. On Sunday afternoon he spoke of four tools. And here is where I started to feel guilty. And stressed. And confused. But don’t mistake my anxiety as disapproval or dislike because I actually believe in the benefits of his four tools:

1)   Family Prayer morning and night is “nonnegotiable priority in daily life, more important than sleep, school, media…”

2)   Scripture Study as a family, same as above

3)   FHE needs to be every Monday night and nothing, not “employment, sports, homework” should stand in the way.

4)   Attend the Temple.

I kinda wanted to cry, because as a SAHM who is actively trying to raise her family in the gospel, I WANT these things in my life. I TRY to do these things but fail. Majorly. Especially if the standard for success is Every. Single. Day. Twice. Whatever happened to the lovely vagueness of the word “regular?”  Regular prayer and scripture study are goals I can live with. But nonnegotiable rocks my boat, because I cannot prioritize my family as Scott urges and also serve those around me in the way Holland envisions.

As I listened to Elder Scott, I started to picture two versions of Elder Ballard’s “Old Ship Zion.” One ship is large, filled with many souls. Sometimes I have to leave my kids on the poop deck to go into the galley and wash dishes or play shuffleboard with a widow who desperately needs the company. Scriptures are not always studied because my time and attention are spent elsewhere, mending sails and swabbing decks. But my kids are learning to work and serve as well. Yet when I think of Scott’s focus on shoring up my family, I see me and my kids on a small boat, a dinghy of sorts. The only way I can make those four tools a regular part of our lives is to isolate ourselves. Become the Swiss Family Robinson. If I am going to make it happen, I cannot pull other people onto my boat.

I freely admit that my life is better when I have managed to make prayer and scriptures a regular part of our lives. There is a peace. But there is also a price. Because FHE is not simply 4o minutes on Monday night. It means meals and homework and lessons and projects all have to be dealt with ahead of time, often at great cost. It means preparing a spiritual message that a 17 year old and an 8 year old will listen to. And nobody’s mad, but all those tasks usually fall on the woman’s shoulders. So as Elder Scott talks about the peace brought by these tasks, I feel a little resentful because if any of it is going to happen, the tasks will be mine and mine alone. It ain’t right, but that’s how it is for me and most of the women I know. So we hear this counsel, and we want the benefits but just don’t know if we are capable of paying the price. What (or who) will we have to toss overboard to keep our family afloat?

I am torn because I know I cannot heed both orders. I cannot serve in my ward and community, as I love to, as Holland and Wong urge us to, if my days are filled with nonnegotiable obligations. If I go out in the evening for a lecture, exercise, visiting teachings, service, then family prayers and scriptures will not happen.

And here is where I miss Chieko Okazaki. If she were around she would be tossing me a life vest, and a Diet Coke, telling me that of course I cannot do it all. She might say this: “[Heather], I think that many Mormon women do not have clear boundaries for themselves. They feel a sense of confusion about who they are, because many competing voices lay claim to them and they try to accommodate them all…. Remember, a boundary has ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. A woman who never feels that she can say ‘no’ is lacking an important element of personal identity and, hence, personal safety. A woman who also feels that she can never say ‘yes’ has an equally serious problem in her inability to move beyond her own boundaries.” (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/…/article/download/391/369)

So I come away from General Conference with lots to think about: my role as a mother, a sister, a friend, a disciple, a part of a community. I know I will have to find my own answers, my own balance. Choices will be made and I will live with the consequences. Ultimately it is Elder Uchtodorf words that provide a lifeline: “We are all pilgrims, seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship.” And in my quiet moments, I can almost see the sun on the horizon.

 

How do you reconcile what feel like conflicting admonitions from Church leaders?  What talks felt like life preservers? What make you feel like walking the plank? 

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Blessed Be the Mentors

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Saturday was a special day. It was the day Claudia Bushman was celebrated via the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Symposium. I was not able to attend, but I was able to sit in a seminar with Claudia and her husband, Richard, almost every day for six weeks, just a tiny bit earlier this summer through BYU’s Maxwell Institute. It was a deeply enriching experience, as I thought it might be.

Claudia added her wisdom and knowledge, her strong and honest voice, and her pleas to tell our own stories, as well as precious bits from her own. Once she shared the price of her gold wedding band ($5!). Another time she pinpointed a doctrine (magnifying your calling) that she perceived to be pernicious, with quite good, and quite funny reasons. My favorite (class) moment of all occurred after we discussed the significance of Eliza’s hymn, “O My Father.” Claudia quipped that we should all write poems about Heavenly Mother, because then they can become theology.

My favorite non-class moments were different. They were about the fact that I was in an intensive class, while caring for a (still nursing) infant in a state far away from where I live, and where my husband would be. 

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On My First Mother’s Day Weekend

On Saturday evening a loved friend met my babe for the first time. Perhaps because of this, the conversation turned to children, and whether she hopes to have one some day. The answer was yes: one. I told her the thing you say, that if she chooses to have a baby, and is able to have one, that she “will be a great parent.” I said this thing sincerely–completely, completely sincerely. She said the thing that I have never had anyone say. “Do you think you are a great parent?” For what felt like a long time, I could only pause. I could only be silent.

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In Defense of Boredom

In Defense of Boredom

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As someone who seeks diversion, hungers for excitement, and insists on turning a trip to Target into an Adventure, I can’t believe I am about to spend the next few paragraphs exploring the virtues of boredom.  But I am.

I got to thinking about this over the summer when a bunch of us took our kids to Tanglewood. It was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 but you would have thought I was taking my kids to Gitmo for a night of waterboarding. I was mortified at how recalcitrant the 16 and 8 year olds were. Twenty minutes into it Bea, the 8 year old tells me it’s not fun and insists on leaving. I tell her tough luck. She then starts to retch and says, “but I’m so bored I’m going to barf!” “Then be quick and quiet about it because we are staying put.”  Honestly. No one has boredom-induced nausea! We all survived but it was not pretty.

The truth is nobody likes to be bored. But I feel like we have entered an era of “Boredomphobia” where tedium is a crime and dullness a sin.  Most kids have their own handheld electric buddy to keep them occupied between swim lessons and Kumon and the 15 other enrichment activities they do. And adults are no exception. The other day as I waited at the orthodontist for my daughter, I realized I had left my smart phone in the car and had no idea what I was supposed to do. There was nothing to read (other than a pamphlet on gingivitis), no solitaire to play, no news to catch up on.  It took me a while but I finally just sat there and was alone with my thoughts (the HORROR!).  And before Georgia emerged I had actually done a little bit of soul searching that never would have happened checking Facebook.  It reminded me that it’s easy to confuse busyness with productivity and growth.

Growing up in the 70s when nobody cared if you wandered the streets till dusk and the Walkman wasn’t around till late junior high, the neighborhood kids would just find each other and eventually the boredom would somehow spark creativity. Nobody ran to their mom and said, “We’re bored, what can we do?” If we said that our moms would rope us into some kind of housework. We knew better. So we invented skateboard Olympics, choreographed dances to Donna Summer, hiked to the waterfall (ie creek trickling two feet off a small rock) and searched for rattlesnake skins.  It’s easy for my kids to transform boredom into creativity with cousins at reunions, when a pack of kids with time on their hands is seen as a good thing. But it’s harder in our day-to-day life when we all feel so separate and programmed and everything feels urgent and play dates can be orchestrated down to the minute.  Sometime you need to think “what now?” before you can posit that great creative leap of “what if…”

Most family cars now have DVD players in them, which is magical, I’ll admit. But it seems nutty to watch 10 minutes of a movie as you drive to school (not that we haven’t whipped out the iPad while running errands). I remember those endless drives every summer from LA to Provo. It’s a dismal 12 hour haul. My siblings and I fought and irritated one another almost to the point of madness. That whole “I’m gonna turn this car around” is no joke! Our station wagon had a radio but no cassette—not even an 8track. But a funny thing would happen somewhere around the Pear Blossom Highway. Lee, the eldest, would invent a game, spotting license plates or seeing who could find the most things that start with the letter “P” and the four of us would bond in our boredom and transforming it into fun. I have seen this happen in my own minivan when even our many anti-boredom devices no longer satisfy us. Sometimes we play a game. Sometimes we tell stories. And sometimes we are just silent. But we have to be bored first.

Here’s my bottom line. Life gets dull and we need to make it work for us.  Mot of us are more interesting than we think we are; we just need a little while to get reacquainted with our thoughts. Stop seeing ennui as the enemy and stare it down. Embrace it even. If any people should have learned to harness and transform boredom it’s the Mormons. Who else has 3 hours of meeting every darn Sunday where we can practice transforming tedium into diversion and perhaps, dare I suggest, wonder?! So what I’m saying is boredom can be the gateway to creativity.  Or to reflection. Or to stillness.  But no matter what Bea says, it won’t make you barf.

What do you do to combat boredom? How do you embrace it? Do you think LDS are more or less prone to fear of boredom?

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Where All the Stories Are LOVE Stories

One of My Heroes. From one of the greatest stories of LOVE.

One of My Heroes. From one of the greatest stories of LOVE.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~Lao Tzu

 

 


http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/461259724/where-all-the-stories-are-love-stories

As a storyteller, I’ve long understood the power of connecting ourselves with our heroes. Growing up I was able to put myself in the shoes of Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Nephi, Indiana Jones, then, eventually Bridget Jones and even Walter Mitty. It’s the power of a story. No matter where we live or who we are, we have the imaginations that stretch us, pull us, and encourage us to aim higher, achieve more, relate, and envision a happy ending–even if we’re at the scary, unknown exposition.

Stories are universal. And a culture is made up of stories passed from one generation to the next. The foundation of the way we define our lives is expressed through stories told in movies, social media, news media, and books written at a given time in history. Over the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is the right time in history to make a change in the stories we’ve passed on about the LGBT community.

The trend in our culture has been to portray our LGBT neighbors as misfits, always on the outskirts of normal society, often so eccentric that we are unable to relate. Rarely do you see a movie featuring gay couples sharing a simple kiss, holding hands, or looking at each other with expressions of everyday love– these simple actions are the foundation of everyone’s love story. They make art art and love love– your love and my love. My story, as a filmmaker, is to change this. To make a documentary film about these everyday, extraordinary stories that make us all the same.

I believe in people. I believe in the power of love. And I believe that the thing that connects us to each other, regardless of our differences, is our personal story. Our stories are our lives. They are fleeting. They are precious. They are worthy of being documented. And each one should be told and heard.

I’m reminded often, during this filmmaking process, of  the words of my hero from one of my favorite stories. Atticus Finch understood something during his time that many people did not,  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Maybe that seems simplistic on a topic that has caused much heated discussion and debate, but for me, it’s truly come down to simple love, kindness, and acceptance of those who may at first appear different that I am.

If you feel so inclined, please, take a look at our kickstarter project, donate if you can, and share the link. Thank you.

First Gay Marriages in Utah

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Birth/Rebirth: My Birth, Their Baby

Guest Post by Jen

Jen previously posted about why she became a gestational surrogate here. She lives in Utah with her husband and four children and is currently on her second journey as a Gestational Surrogate.

 

Photo of Jen and the baby she gave birth to, by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photograph

Photo of Jen and the baby she gave birth to, by Erin Gadd, Pink Daffodil Photograph

Being pregnant with another woman’s baby has many blessings. For me, I love being pregnant. I love feeling the baby kick. I love having others ask me about my pregnancy. I don’t always feel so cute, but when I see other pregnant women, I always think they look so beautiful, so I try to remember that maybe I look the same to others and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. The heartbreaking part about carrying another woman’s baby is that this baby’s mother is not feeling the baby kick. Strangers are not looking at them and wondering questions like “when is she due?” and “is she having a boy or a girl?”

With my first journey as a surrogate, I would always ask the Intended mother if she was ok with me carrying for her. I always worried that it was hard for her to watch me go through what she wants to go through. I would think about the things that would break my heart if I were not able to carry my own child. She was always so positive about it and said, “I am ok. We knew and were prepared.” To this day, I wonder if she was just trying to be strong for me and for her baby boy.

I recently asked my current Intended Mother what was hardest for her. Her response was, “It’s hard to say goodbye to my baby as I watch her leave with another woman.” I can’t imagine the pain some must endure.  Therefore I would dream about how I could involve my Intended Mother as much as possible. I would dream about the birth and how I could make her experience unforgettable. I wanted her to be the first one to touch and hold her baby.

The day approached and I asked my doctor if she, the Intended Mother, could deliver her own baby boy.

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